A brief legal guide to inheritance Act claims
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When someone passes away should they be free to leave all their worldly goods to whoever they choose? Not according to English law. The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 will intervene to rectify estate distributions when justice needs to be done.
The Act was introduced to prevent people suffering financial hardship when someone close to them dies. A recent court case serves as a good example of the sort of situation where the court will step in. The case involved a couple in their nineties who had been married for over thirty years. During this time Mrs W had nursed her husband through the loss of his sight. Mr W had paid all the household bills and financed their holidays. His state pension was paid straight into Mrs W’s bank account.
When Mrs W died in September Mr W was shocked to learn that her investments over the years had enabled her to amass a tidy sum of £670,000. He was even more surprised to find out that she had not left any of it to him in her will. Her fortune, which included the family home that was registered in her sole name, had instead been left to Mrs W’s daughter by a previous relationship, with other financial gifts to grandchildren and charities.
A further blow for Mr W was that she had changed her will only a year prior to her death. Under the previous will he would have inherited £50,000 and would have been allowed to stay in the family home until he died; what lawyers call a ‘life interest’. It is believed that Mrs W had gone against her solicitor’s advice in changing the will after her husband became legally blind as she thought he would die before her due to his health.
With just £40,000 in savings and surviving on a state pension Mr W was left homeless as a result of Mrs W’s will. Mr W therefore brought a claim against his late wife’s estate for ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance Act. After lengthy negotiations he received a sum of £225,000 in an out-of-court settlement. This enabled Mr W to purchase a house of his own.
So, while you can leave your estate to whoever you wish, the law is on hand to rectify injustices if the outcome is unfair.
Spouses have the strongest claim under the Inheritance Act but there are other categories of claimant including cohabitees, children and financial dependants. When an Inheritance Claim is brought against an estate the court will weigh up the needs and resources of the claimant with those who benefit under the will (or Intestacy if there is no will). However, as happened in this case, such claims often settle out of court with the costs of all parties being paid from the estate.